Novel Update

Posted: September 19, 2015 in Writing

I haven’t updated the progress In A Murphy Minute in a while because… well… the progress sucked.

Frankly I’ve been working on this one for way too long. I wrote somewhere around 35k for version one. Ish. That one I still wrote by hand so I could write at work which means it’s hard to get a good estimate. The two protags had zero chemistry. Which wasn’t good since the book was intended to be a bit of a romance at its core.

So for v2, I genderflopped the protag and restarted. When I write characters that are kinda like me, I tend to skip over too much. By making the protag as different from me as possible, it forces me to slow down and think about what I’m writing. The end result is better because I’m paying attention to the details better. So I changed up the characters but kept the skeleton of the plot the same.

But then then whole thing got bogged down under the plot holes. I pushed v2 out to 46k but 40k seems to be the point where I get hosed in the plot. I remember having problems with Amity in the 40-50k range too. I realized I hit the halfway point of the novel and hadn’t even seen the antagonist yet. That’s not very good. So I lost confidence with Murphy Minute.

Losing confidence in the novel like that is a big deal. For all that I can see the problems with Amity now, for all that I can see why it didn’t sell, I never once lost confidence in it. It’s been almost two years since I trunked Amity but I still have a plan in the back of my head to strip it down and rewrite it as a one PoV quest with a streamlined plot. So losing confidence in Murphy Minute is a very big deal.

I spent a long time deconstructing the plot of Murphy Minute and rebuilding it. I added in a second point of view and changed the plot a lot.

I’ve been hovering around the 40k mark again in v3 for a long time. Maybe 15k of that was copied straight from the old version because it still worked. Some of the old chapters were changed to the new point of view. Some things I just lifted wholesale with big scribbled notes to “Fix all the problems later.” It was starting to slow down a lot. I was starting to lose confidence in the novel again. Last week, I actually started outlining a different novel, about a Russian cosmonaut, with the intent of blasting through NaNoWriMo.

Yesterday, I opened up Murphy Minute to poke at the chapter that had been giving me so much trouble. I didn’t expect much. It was one of those chapters where I was rewriting the same events from version two but with a different point of view this time.

twitterpicI hit *the* moment of the book. Writing it from the different point of view, I added something that wasn’t there before and the whole thing took a pivot. I got excited to write this novel again. I churned out words like there was no tomorrow.

I hit 5.8k on the day. All new and fresh words.

More importantly, I’ve finally gone past the point which version two covered. I think part of what bogged me down so much was trying to marry the old and new parts together in something that came out coherent. I like the characters. I like the prose. I like the dialogue. I didn’t want to lose the good parts of the old version. So, for all that the parts I saved were good parts, I think it added an extra layer of difficulty to drafting the novel.

That’s not a problem anymore. Everything is new from here on out.

I’ve also decided I am going to finish Murphy Minute for my birthday, just like I did with Amity. 5k a week for 10 weeks will do it. We’ll see if my goals are still reasonable at Thanksgiving.

Donations for a Kidney

Posted: August 30, 2015 in Stuff

I almost exclusively keep this blog to writing related things. Beyond the glimpse of my twitter feed on the left hand column, I keep this focused on writing. Twitter is for all the other stuff. I barely use Facecrack, but I guess that counts too.

I am going to break with tradition for something important.

My sister is looking to become a living organ donor. She has two healthy kidneys. My wife’s best friend has renal failure and zero functional kidneys.

Insurance will pay for all the compatibility testing and the surgery itself. It does not, however, pay for the logistics.

My sister lives in Oregon. My wife’s best friend lives in Rhode Island. Bit of a two thousand mile problem.

She has set up a GoFundMe page to raise the travel costs for multiple trips to Rhode Island. She has passed the initial surveys and has a compatible blood type. The remaining tests and screenings need to be done here in Rhode Island though. My sister is a doctor and knows what she’s getting into. If everything is kosher and the transplant can go through, my sister is healthy enough that it will not adversely affect her life while it will save a life.

Think about tossing a couple bucks into the hat if you can.

2 Plane Tickets: 1 Kidney

Character Questions

Posted: August 23, 2015 in Writing
Tags: ,

When I come up with the first inkling of a story, it tends to be a scene with a character in the midst of some action or in a certain location. It’s very “scenario first, plot later” which that alone sums up a lot of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It’s much more conducive to Dungeons and Dragons than novels, but meh. Plot comes from characters and you need to know your characters before you can formulate a proper plot. At least that’s how I operate.

Recently, I took a class run by Delilah S. Dawson (who is awesome) and it was all about turbocharging your characters in order to make your novel stronger. I got a lot out of it.

But there was one thing I wanted to share with the class but I only just found it again a couple days ago.

In college, I went to film school. It’s a different medium than writing novels, so it inherently has different strengths and weaknesses, but many aspects of good storytelling are universal. When I got to my last semester of college, I finished my thesis and all the required classes for my major. All I had to do was fill out my credit total. One of the classes I took was an acting class. I was upfront with the prof that I wanted to know something about the other side of the camera, not really ever expecting to be a proper actor. He was cool with that. And also thoroughly freaked out because he ran theater classes for my parents in the general vicinity of 1979 and I was the first second generation student.

Acting is all character.

Prof Patterson had one assignment which gave you a laundry list of questions for you to get in your character’s head. That’s no different than writing a novel, at least the way I write. When I was moving into my house and cleaning out a boxes of old college crap a few years ago, I found the assignment and I typed up the questions into a word doc. It got lost in the shuffle when I got this new computer, a few months ago but I found it again. It has been useful for me and I’m sharing it in case that’s the sort of thing that’s useful to you. Not every question really works for every situation. Acting 201 didn’t really worry about science fiction or fantasy, but it works for the most part.

Questions below the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

An Open Thank You

Posted: July 24, 2015 in Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

This is an open thank you letter to Delilah S. Dawson, author of kick ass books and teacher of kick ass classes.

Dear Delilah,

Thank you.

We just finished up the LitReactor class about turbocharging our characters and leveling up our writing through a novel’s inhabitants. I’ve kept a sly eye on LitReactor classes for a long time but yours really seemed like the sort of thing that would be a shot in the arm to my own writing. I’m writing a bit of a romance book disguised as SFF and your Blud books and Myke Cole’s Breach Zone are directly responsible for me adopting that attitude. Character is the foundation of any book, but it is twice as important with any writing where people are making lovey eyes at each other even if they’re doing it while busting heads and throwing down with magical gangsters.

But I was very nervous about pulling the trigger and signing up for the class. But you know this. Since we’ve chatted a few times before, I emailed you direct about my questions. Was I walking into something meant for true noobs? Was I going to be in over my head since my current novel isn’t finished yet? Should I be starting something fresh for this? These were all legitimate questions, but more than anything I was nervous about taking a class from a writer who’s work I enjoy greatly and I respect a lot as a person and a professional. I was worried about being that awkward as hell introvert that was awkward as hell without realizing it. It’s not a rational worry. Back in the Wild West days of the internet, my first interaction with a professional author was so horrible, I didn’t even think about writing anything for eight years. Being weird and fifteen probably did not help matters, but suffice to say, it’s been sixteen years and I still cringe whenever I see anyone mention the Author That Shall Not Be Named. I still feel wonky whenever I shoot the breeze with Myke Cole at Boskone. I felt like an immense dork when I met Seanan McGuire. I worried I was going to put my foot in my mouth when Scott Lynch remembered I was the submarine guy at his book release party. I almost threw up when Kameron Hurley was all “Oh! You’re Mike from twitter.” I did these things anyways because I can throw down a good game face when I need to, but there have been plenty of other times I passed something up or stood there when I wanted to speak up and say something so simple as “Hi, you’re book is great *fist bump*”

Taking a class from someone writing in the field, from someone who is where I want my own career to head towards, was a huge deal for me.

Putting my work out there was scary. I had more nerves about taking this class than I did sending out my first query letter for the trunked novel. Seriously.

I’ve put my work out there before, of course. I write some short stories and the rejections sprinkle my gmail inbox still. I’ve got thirty rejection letters from agents. I participate in the Online Writer’s Workshop and get solid critiques from that crew. I have a few people I can always get honest and useful feedback from (Denise! Drea!) But for a long time I’ve felt like I was screaming into the wind.

I understand why agents and editors use form letter rejections. When I was doing the agent queries, I even had one that started with “Dear [Insert Author]…” But that doesn’t mean I like them. Everyone says “Write more and you will get better.” Well, yeah, but my first thought is always “But what if I’m making the same mistakes every time and no one will tell me?”

This is why I want to thank you for teaching the class.

For the first time in far too long, I feel like I have a clear idea of what I am doing right, and what I need to work on. A good critique is like gold, and you just handed me a treasure chest. Dialogue, good. Blocking out movement and action, not so much. I think my film degree has a hand in both of those.

From the first lecture and exercise on our protagonists, I was pulling ideas for how I was going to make my novel better. My secondary characters are stepping into focus and doing more than just being there. I know what I need to do now to get that second voice down right. I know where I can high five myself and where I need to hunker down and get to work.

So, thank you, Delilah.

Thank you for being the type of person who takes the time to guide those of us who want to join you on that side of the fence. You’ve always taken the time to answer my questions. Your blog is one of my go-to sources for smart shop talk. And now you’ve taught this awesomesauce class.

My writing may not have leveled up yet, but I have a map and a key to the boss fight now.

I’m going to get this book published and someday, some rad convention is going to sit everyone in alphabetical order and we’ll be all “Remember the thing!” and do a cool 80’s freeze frame high five while all the other letters who aren’t D will be jealous of our high fives.

It will be great.

Thanks again.


Writing Triage

Posted: May 31, 2015 in Stuff

Dear Blog,

Hi. How ya doing? Feeling kinda ignored, eh?

Well I swear you’re not dead. Not a bit. But…….

You’re on life support a bit though. I need to triage my free time. The kiddo is three. Holy crap he’s three! But that means ye olde free time isn’t exactly plentiful. So, sorry Blog, you’re like that guy who shows up to the ER with kidney stones at the same time as the ambulance rolls in. You’re not doing well, but you’re not first in line.

Sucks, doesn’t it?

Nothing to be done about it though. You want attention at the same time as the novel and well, novel comes first. Gonna have to deal with that. It’s too bad, cause I have a bunch of nifty ideas I want to blog about. I finished reading Kelly McCullough’s Fallen Blade series. It’s fantastic and I want to use it as an example of a great way to handle a series. How to make sure each book has its own identity but still have a solid overall arc. How to remind people what happened with the old books without a heavy info dump.

So anyways. I’ve spent too many minutes with you already, Blog, and since the laptop is kind of a jerk in need of replacement, I’m stuck using an “unsupported browser” and wordpress won’t even let me add a link. I don’t even think spellcheck is working right now.

So I’m done with you, Blog. For a little while. At least until I catch up with the novel.

Writing Against the Odds

Posted: March 2, 2015 in Junk, Writing
Tags: , ,

I am going to assume all the writerly people who read this blog (*cough*most of you*cough*) have seen this article by the MFA guy ranting about people who go into MFA programs.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

It was all over my twitter feed over the weekend. Well, at least the SFF writer chunk of my twitter feed. The NASCAR stuff doesn’t really overlap much.

I first saw it show up via Myke Cole. Swaths of writers I like and respect, both as people and as writers, had sentiments that ranged from “Wow, bitter much?” to “Fuck this guy.”

And I concur. Seriously, Fuck that guy. It makes me glad I couldn’t find an affordable and accessible MFA. I was looking into one so I could get out of my hellhole of a job into something I at least don’t hate that can pay the bills. The endgame I was hoping for was a little bit of teaching, a little bit of publishing and a big chunk of book writing. This guy makes me think I don’t have the patience for any sort of collegiate writing anything. I’ve got a friend in the Rhode Island College English program and he says there are professors that flat out say no genre work allowed in class. When I was cruising for online MFAs, one of the more promising ones, UTEP, was pretty point blank about no genre work.

So I seriously am part of the “Fuck this guy” camp. Right from his first bullet point, his article went down sideways with me.

But then I saw a couple people defending the guy.

The MFA Guy Defenders were also writers I like and respect both as people and professionals. They had well thought out points that I didn’t really agree with, but they were thought out and rational. Holy crap actual discourse!

The Defenders of the MFA Guy can talk about the same points without enraging anyone and it made me realize the writer of the article is really just a jackass more than anything. He’s a condescending jackass.

I’m not where I want to be with a writing career. Most people aren’t. The Stephen Kings and GRRMs are a million to one odds. Hell, I’m still plugging away looking for that first sale, though I think I’ve had a couple in the “close but no cigar” category of “We like it, just not a good fit here.” While I’m working on it, I don’t to bury my head in the sand and have people blowing smoke saying publishing is nothing but rainbows and unicorns crapping out gold coins and fat advance checks.

Realistic expectations with a publishing career is a good thing. I appreciate it so much when Jim Hines blogs about the yearly writing income. Agent Jennifer Laughran spelled out a breakdown of the mythical six figure publishing deal last week. (Spoiler alert! It breaks down to a crapload less than I made last year… about as much as I made moving refrigerators when I was 23). John Scalzi is big on pointing out the business realities that aren’t always friendly or fun. And if you want to hear publishing horror stories, pick through Kameron Hurley’s blog and looking for anything pertaining to Nightshade Books.

Publishing is a harsh mistress. Self publishing is just as, if not more, harsh just in different ways. I am fully aware and accept this as the Way It Is.

Some people have more natural talent and might not have to work as hard as others. Some people know the Right People. Sometimes, what you like to write just doesn’t sell. Sometimes crappy books sell like wildfire. Very few of us will ever get rich or even be able to go full time without a trust fund or a spouse/better half with a hefty paycheck. But when Hines or Laughran or Scalzi or Hurley or a myriad of other people out there in the SFF world talk about it, I am not bothered by it.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve had a rough couple of weeks what with the car exploding and not making it to Boskone and yadda yadda yadda and am a bit extra irritated lately. (The car was ‘time to buy a new one’ broken) But damnit, no one needs more negativity. Anyone who knows me for real or even just on twitter probably just snarfed at that. I get it. I’m pretty damn surly as much as I try to keep it off the blog. MFA Guy’s condescending d-bag attitude serves nothing but his ego though. There’s no “wake up call” or “brutal honesty,” just a guy stroking his ego living up to the stereotype. As a writer, MFA Guy should know that the framework behind the sentiment matters just as much as the sentiment. MFA Guy pissed off a lot of people with his attitude for no real reason.

I know what the odds are because there are some people out there who take the time to present them as realism and nothing more. The odds are long. I can count on one hand the number of SFF authors I follow on ye olde twitter that write full time without a working spouse. I live in New England with a mortgage and a kid. I spent a large chunk of my 20s living below the poverty line and it’s a not a lifestyle I will go back to. Ever. The odds of funding a middle class lifestyle on writing alone is stupid small.

I am writing against the odds anyways.

You can be honest and helpful in facing the odds with realism, or a toolbag like MFA Guy.

I’m going to keep writing against the odds

Boskone 52 Report

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Conventions

a.k.a How I Spent $8k and Never Made it to the Convention



So that looks like a lot of fun, right?

I commute to the Boston area cons because A) I don’t really have the money to stay for a whole weekend B) I work Fridays anyways C) I have a two year old who is really rad and D) Even the raddest and most well behaved two year olds are still a handful and that’s not fair to my wife to just up and go for a whole weekend.

So Boston is a hellish place to drive in but it’s only actually 60 miles away from where I live in Rhode Island. I drive 45 miles in the other direction every day to work in Connecticut. Not a big deal. Well I never made it out of Rhode Island yesterday.

That picture is of a completely seized engine.

The short version of the story (which isn’t that short, but I don’t want to repeat it a lot so I’m putting it here)… Between my house and the gas station, my car was perfectly fine. Since I started working in Connecticut, I’ve put a big chunk of miles on my car, but it’s a Subaru. Once a Subaru hits 100k, it’s just getting warmed up. That’s half the reason I got a Subaru and mine wasn’t on track to hit 100K until this summer even though it’s seven years old. After the gas station, I hit the interstate pointed north to Boston. The car started rattling. You can’t tell, but my bumper is held together with zip ties because it hooked on a snowbank a couple years ago. So sometimes it comes loose and rattles. The rattle didn’t change with how much I was on the gas. I figured there was some snow up under the wheel well that was screwing with the bumper.

At this point I was in Providence. Rhode Island’s capital kind of sucks. I avoid the city when I can but I know that the exits will dump you in crappy parts of town or near the mall. Neither of which are convenient places to stop and mess around with your car. I knew of a nice gas station right off the highway just over the Massachusetts line and planned on stopping there.

I didn’t make it that far.

The horrible noises got progressively worse. Stopping had to happen immediately. The engine light flickered once and went off. I’ve had it go on for a week at a time before so I didn’t think one flicker was my car’s death knell. It was.

I was on the exit ramp in Pawtucket (Rhode Islanders are wincing, The Bucket isn’t a great place) when the engine cut out completely. I was EXTREMELY lucky that it was on the exit ramp at about 30mph. Power steering goes away with the engine. Rhode Island also sucks at plowing and with all the snow, there would have been no where to get my car off the highway. As it was, I randomly picked an exit right next to a gas station and was able to manhandle the steering wheel to get it in there and out of the way.

car bork 2

Still borked.

I waited for a tow. Ironically, when the tow truck pulled up, it wasn’t for me. There was a car right next to mine in the gas station. I figured it was the guy who worked there. It wasn’t. That car was also dead and waiting for a tow, the driver just wandered off and abandoned it instead of waiting in the cold. The second tow truck showed up and took my car back down to the Sears Auto Center not far from my house. (Butch, our local guy, isn’t open weekends) The guy at Sears took one look at it and said “Oil’s gone. The damage is done and I doubt it’s salvageable.”

At least I didn’t have to pay an $80 diagnostic fee for that.

My car gave me ZERO warning that was going to happen. Really, as soon as it started rattling on the highway, it was already too late. No oil lights. No engine lights. No smoke. No leaking fluids. My driveway is covered in snow, I would have easily noticed a leak in the white snow. I had that one flicker of the light one mile before it seized up, which doesn’t really count as a warning since the car was borked before that. (The Subaru guy later told me that oil light only comes on with low oil pressure not low oil level cause that makes a lot of fucking sense.) When I popped the hood waiting for the tow, there was a sleight smell but I don’t exactly sniff my car that often to diagnose by nose.

So back to Sears. They conveniently does not do that level of engine repair. I waited for another tow. At this point, the blizzard had started so it took me 20 minutes just to get a call through to AAA. My wife is awesome so she came over with her car and we cleared out everything from mine and got some noms from Wendy’s while we waited in the snow. The car got towed to the local Subaru dealership this time because they can dive into it hardcore.

Prognosis from Subaru is not that good.

With this level of damage, our only practical repair option is an engine swap. I do not have the money or the desire to send a forensic repair team into the innards of the car for hours to tell me it’s borked. I know it’s borked. I had my last oil change in my car in mid-December and the same place did my state safety inspection a couple weeks later. I was scheduled to go there again on Tuesday for another oil change. I’ve had a number of people suggest that I call up and make them fix it. That’s not even worth the stress to me. I would have to pay for the lengthy diagnostic labor for a 50-50 shot that it was someone’s fault. The roads in Rhode Island are so shitty, it’s more likely a pot hole caused it. I don’t need to pay someone money I don’t have for those odds.

So what did Subaru tell me? Labor is going to up in the neighborhood of $2k. Then they need to source a used engine. Oh, did I forget to mention Subaru doesn’t sell crate engines? Yeah. That. Subaru only sells the engine blocks and then you have to put all your own pieces on it. Well my engine seized… who the hell knows how many parts are any good on my car. My car only had 88k miles on it. My car did not have a turbo or any of the WRX go-fast parts, but a low mileage used Subaru engine is not going to come cheap. I don’t think they show up on the market that often. The ballpark figure to getting my car back on the road is $8k with zero estimate yet on the time frame.

The dealership isn’t open on Sundays (cause, ya know, why be open when it’s convenient for people to get things done like get cars repaired) so my car is sitting in the snow at the dealer, waiting to get looked at and see what the damage is. Hopefully on Monday they can give me a real estimate. And then if the estimate looks good, I need to make sure they stay with that estimate because there is a very finite line where it’s not worth it to bother. That’s both a dollar amount line and a engine mileage line. They could do it on the cheap, but hell no am I putting some 120K engine in my car.

So that’s the story. A new Subaru Impreza starts at $21k. A quick google search shows only three 2008 Imprezas for sale. The only low mileage one is 800 miles away for $15k. Which is funny because I paid $16k in god damn 2008 for mine. I don’t want to buy one of these things. My car was supposed to last long enough for my kiddo to drive it (and then not be allowed to because I know how much trouble I would have gotten into with a Subaru at age 16).